MMGM and #IMWAYR: Go with the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann
I've been so much of a mess lately that I totally forgot it's been 2 years since I first joined #IMWAYR! (And since the pandemic started—it reminds me of when I asked my parents in March 2020 if this might go on for a whole month. Uh...that was a slight underestimate.) But anyway, this is always a wonderful time to just say how much I appreciate the blogging communities I am in—I discover SO MANY great books through all of you, I gain hope in this world through seeing your inclusive and caring demeanors, and I have people to rant about books with! What's not to love? I look forward to continuing to participate in these wonderful groups.
And now, drumroll, please...the review! And what a review it is—today I'm looking at an absolutely FABULOUS graphic novel, Go with the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann!
This book is about high schoolers, and I think younger YA readers will devour this book, but it's also completely appropriate (content-wise and complexity-wise) for MG readers—in general, the vibe is more MG, so that's what I'm calling it. But make no mistake, this book is such a delight that honestly any reader will enjoy it!
|Preview the illustrations on Amazon|
If you want to know, the characters from top
to bottom are Christine, Brit, Abby, and Sasha.
A few weeks ago, I began overcoming my period squeamishness as an ignorant non-menstruating person by reviewing the fabulous nonfiction guide Welcome to Your Period! as part of my roundup of Cybils finalists. Then Cheriee Weichel at Library Matters—who, if it hasn't already been established, is literally so great—gave me the absolute kindness of coming into my comments and telling me to read this book. And y'all—she was so right!!! I devoured this book in two days straight, engaging in quite a bit of "emotive reading" (read: silently gasping, clapping my hands, ranting about how good the book is, etc. while reading it) along the way! And now I have the wonderful task of getting to tell you all about it!
Rather than wasting energy trying to write a summary of the book, let's let the publisher do that for us:
Good friends help you go with the flow.
Best friends help you start a revolution.
Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are fed up. Hazelton High never has enough tampons. Or pads. Or adults who will listen.
Sick of an administration that puts football before female health, the girls confront a world that shrugs―or worse, squirms―at the thought of a menstruation revolution. They band together to make a change. It’s no easy task, especially while grappling with everything from crushes to trig to JV track but they have each other’s backs. That is, until one of the girls goes rogue, testing the limits of their friendship and pushing the friends to question the power of their own voices.
Now they must learn to work together to raise each other up. But how do you stand your ground while raising bloody hell?
So where to even start with the delights of Go with the Flow? I mean, there's just so much to say! But I think we have to start with the four equally iconic protagonists of this book. Rather than one character taking center stage, Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha all matter equally in this book, and we spend time both with all four of them as a group and with them individually (or even in small groups away from some of the others, which introduces some excellent dynamics). I personally adored Christine—she's such a perfect combination of compassionate and fun-loving, and I love how she can switch from a little bit dramatic or off-the-wall to perfectly present in the moment for whoever needs it. (This won't be a helpful comparison, but she reminds me a little bit of Amethyst from my favorite TV show, Steven Universe!)
But that isn't to say that the other characters aren't absolute delights—I'll discuss Abby more later, because she factors the most into the activism of the book, but Brit is so delightfully smart and level-headed and Pride and Prejudice-loving (the Keira Knightley version, as the characters are quick to note), and it's wonderful to see shy new kid Sasha come out of her shell in powerful ways with the help of her friends (even as she grapples with some substantial bullying). If you're one of those people who loves a big, delightful cast where everyone gets their chance in the spotlight (and who doesn't love that?), then Go with the Flow will click perfectly!
Moving into the most obvious topic of this book, let's talk periods. First of all, this book is so enormously destigmatizing about periods—Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann note in the wonderfully-informative back matter that talking about periods is the first step to reducing stigma, and as such, this book unabashedly talks about them! Our characters talk about pads and tampons and share their own experiences when one of them needs to hear them. And there's also a pretty substantial exploration of what seems to be endometriosis, which I was really impressed to see tackled in such a nuanced way. (Lily Williams seems to have drawn from her own endometriosis diagnosis for this part of the story, and it's very powerful.) And if you think that period conversations in general would be weirdly out of context, it's not, because (a) these are perfectly natural conversations to have in the first place and (b) there are specific plot events that make this all relevant as a discussion topic for the characters. Also, not to get too off-topic from periods, but this book also tackles sexism in general—we see boys who do absolutely infuriating things, and we also see boys who model compassionate, awesome behavior to our young readers!
Moving back to menstruation, it's also really important to note that our characters don't just talk about periods—they fight to change the situation. And that starts with Abby, who is primarily the activist of the four main characters. Abby is wise beyond her years—she knows how to use her art and writing skills to speak out, but she also recognizes that sometimes, you have to do more than just speak. And she's ready to do that, by reaching out to school administrators, speaking out to the general public, sending letters, and more. This book reminds me of the graphic novel Act in how it models different ways of effecting change in your society! And I also appreciate the theme of balancing your need to fight for change with your need to preserve your own energy and your own life—I've actually had the chance to hear from some activists in a college course, and they spoke about very similar issues, so I loved seeing it repeated here. And as a blogger, I loved seeing Abby use her blog to spread awareness about period poverty, isolation of menstruating women in other countries, feminist activists throughout history, and more—getting to see Abby's actual posts and the comments that were posted on them was both delightful and informative! Her posts, the general plot, and the book's back matter do an excellent job of introducing readers to the issues relevant to periods and feminism in general.
So we've talked about the period focus, both with regards to general conversations and actual activism—now let's discuss the general slice-of-life aspects of this story! And there are quite a few of them—this book is in no way dominated by period-specific plot lines. There's difficult homework and school projects. There's the struggle of starting at a new school and trying to make friends. There's the struggle of being bullied at your new school and trying to push through. There's the power of reaching out to new kids and making them feel welcome! There's attempts to navigate the tricky-but-rewarding world of romantic relationships (and not just straight ones too!). There's a few struggles that come with having a big friend group—and there's tons and tons of delightful moments in the group too, whether that's funny banter, time spent on video calls or at football games or in people's homes, and plenty of fascinating conversations that us readers get to overhear! I was so impressed by how much is packed into this book—it's 329 pages, so it has some more space to cram all these wonderful details in!
And it wouldn't be a graphic novel review if we didn't talk about the art. I loved the art for this book! First of all, it's all in a monochrome scheme of red, and not only do I like monochrome schemes in general, but red is obviously fitting here—and not just for periods, but also for fierceness (like Abby's intense resolve to fight for change), or even for love (especially the love between four great friends!). And the art style is immensely clear and easy to interpret, with characters easily distinguishable and enormously emotive too—I think this is one of the more clearly illustrated graphic novels you'll be able to find. And the varied layouts, combined with everything else, ensure that this book is visually satisfying, start to finish!
Now, I don't think this book is perfect—I had a few little quibbles that by no means make this a problematic read, but are still worth noting. I didn't love at first that Sasha plays into the typical "shy Asian" stereotype, but I also think that critique is erased as she comes out of her shell in ways even the other girls don't—by the end, I felt like Sasha was actually a really nuanced example of a quiet-but-socially-successful kid! Also, the book is overtly inclusive of transgender and gender-nonconforming people who menstruate, even as it makes the (valid, in my opinion) argument that prejudice against periods stems mainly from prejudice against women—but I wish those weren't phrased in the same breath as basically, "Periods aren't just for women, but...." It feels just a smidge invalidating and could have been avoided with different phrasing. The last thing I think could be improved is that one character has a crush on another of the same gender, and that is pretty overtly acknowledged—but in the pivotal scene, the "outcome" is conveyed primarily through visuals (which, on those panels and virtually no others, are confusing) and not actual statements. Considering that LGBTQ+ inclusion is often kept subtextual as a form of capitulating to pressure and keeping queer people as "less than," I think that something more could have been stated in that scene to affirm the situation. But that said, I think that real relationships do often develop in a subtextual way—it's just with the history of this happening that I wish it could be altered here. (And I am seriously appreciative to see queer representation at all—I don't want to say it's something to be grateful for, as if it's a privilege and not a right, but it's definitely still a wonderful thing that very few authors include with this much nuance!) If you're reading this whole paragraph thinking, "Wait, are any of these actual problems?," the answer is pretty much no—they're things that could have been executed better, but they're all just flip sides of this book's impressive attempts to be inclusive of as many groups as possible, which I think overall goes very well!
When I started reading this book, I was liking it, but I was also feeling like not much had happened—but then I realized I had way more pages left than I thought, and suddenly all kinds of surprisingly nuanced ideas began popping up! I'm really impressed by the sheer volume of topics that Go with the Flow tackles, for the most part without missing a beat—we have period stigma, activism, high school struggles, and delightful friendship, all packed in an uplifting and fun story with amazing art! This is probably one of my new favorite MG graphic novels, up there with Just Roll With It, and if you've taken as long to get to this one as I have, you need to fix that mistake ASAP!
My rating is: Really good!
My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 4!